Thursday, September 17, 2015

So Much Computer Science–So Little Time

I went into the other computer lab today to get some paper for my lab’s printer. The Advanced Placement Computer Science class was in there at the time. Most of the people there took my Honors Programming class last year. One of the students asked me “Mr. Thompson why didn’t you teach us about the switch statement last year?” He went on to say it would have made his end of semester project easier.

It’s a fair question. The answer is that it was a one semester course and there is no way I can fit everything about programming into that short amount of time. So I didn’t spend time explaining switch statements. They are powerful tools of course but while simple to use once one understands them they can be complicated as well. The student is going to discover a lot of things in his full year APCSA course that I didn’t teach him last year. I hope so or what would be the point of APCS?

This sort of thing is a tricky part of teaching computer science. The Computer Science Curricula 2013 for undergraduate education lists more things than could ever fit in a four year college curriculum. Clearly we can’t teach it all in one semester in high school. What we can do (or attempt) is to provide a base for additional learning.

Teachers constantly get the “how do I” question from students who want to learn something that is not in the curriculum. This is wonderful and frightening at the same time. We want to help students learn but we still have to fit in the things we have decided (in our infinite wisdom) they need to know.  Mostly what we do is point them at resources. A textbook, a website, someone who knows things already, and more.

I have a couple of documents I have written that are “how to” about things I get asked about regularly. There is still no room to fit them in formally because there are other things that have a higher priority. For the students who understand things quickly and want to go farther this “extra” learning helps keep interest and motivation high. I never want to hold a student back. When a student wants to learn something how can a teacher not help them?

Really though I wish I had a full year course. Or several full year courses. Not going to happen of course but a teacher can dream.

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